Recently, I met up with my girlfriend in San Francisco to meet our friend for lunch and then see a Giants game. We ended up going to "The Slanted Door," located in the Ferry Building. As we walked around to kill time before lunch, lo and behold, we stumbled across an Imperial Tea Court store!
I have heard plenty of good things about Imperial Tea Court, so we decided to come back after lunch. Looking around, I couldn't help but notice how nice the place was! The shop was tastefully designed, and though I am hardly the best judge of what is authentically Chinese, I at least didn't see anything that would remind me of Teavana. They had a nice selection of teas and teaware, though most of it looked overpriced. Nevertheless, I did end up buying two sets of tasting/smelling cups, and have since grown to love them. (As I would later discover, this was a very well timed purchase.)
We debated about whether we had time to sit down and have some tea, and I convinced her that we did (we didn't). I looked through their "Imperial" selection of teas and settled on their bao zhong, opting for gaiwan service. Recalling a suggestion from another SF Bay Area tea-head whose name escapes me, I asked for cups to decant into— if you don't ask, you have to sip from the gaiwan. Our server was very friendly, and was helpful but not overbearing. He had worked there for two years so he knew what he was doing, but didn't pester us with lessons on how to brew our tea (though I'm sure he would have, had we asked).
The bao zhong was actually quite good, exceeding my expectations (until I saw the price tag on the loose leaf... ouch). I didn't have full control over parameters so I might have gotten better results with more familiar equipment— I had a 6oz gaiwan and a preset amount of leaf— but the tea was still refreshing, calming, and had good flavor and body. After three or four infusions we were almost falling asleep, but luckily the tea was wearing out as well. So, we looked around a bit more and left.
Then, I made one of the dumber decisions of my life and took the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to AT&T park. It took us 45 minutes to go 1.5 miles, landing us in the ballpark right at the end of the 4th inning. Oops!
Anyway, it was a good time, and I'm glad I got to spend it with such a special person (cue "awwwww!"). I don't know if I would want to go to Imperial Tea Court every day, but it is certainly worth a visit, especially if you bring along good company.